By Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D.
The gay pride parade held in major cities from Paris to London to New York on the same day in LGBT Pride month every June belongs to all members of the LGBTQ+ community. The parade guarantees a day of unadulterated and enveloping warmth, inclusiveness, and joy, especially important to all those who may lack these in their everyday lives at home or at work. However, parade organizers at NYC Pride shattered that unity with their announcement in May of banning gay cops from the parade. The resulting backlash demanding a reversal may determine whether the uniquely colorful and all-inclusive LGBTQ+ alliance will splinter or hold, with repercussions for the entire gay agenda.
New York City’s gay pride parade starts with thunderous and bare-chested lesbians and the hundreds of proud men and women of the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) who march right behind the roaring motorbikes of the Dykes on Bikes contingent. It includes dozens of church and religious groups, corporate floats, numerous chapters of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and groups that couldn’t be any “gayer” than Straight Women in Support of Homos (SWISH). It just can’t get any more loving than that.
But it can get uglier. For several years, infighting has included calls by some for the expulsion of corporate groups for perceived over-commercialization of Pride. Companies—and their LGBTQ+ staff, friends, and allies—who take part in the parades across the nation and around the world have been and continue to be central to realizing LGBTQ+ civil rights. In the U.S. today, major corporations continue to stand up and support our rights by boycotting cities and states that pass anti-LGBTQ+ laws and anti-trans bills. Expulsions burn hard-won bridges. Solutions include sharing corporate sponsorship dollars with community groups, as proposed by an alliance of leaders in the Pride edition of WestView News last June (see westviewnews.org/2020/07/04/a-radically-inclusive-proposal-for-the-future-of-nyc-pride/web-admin/).
The banning of gay cops on May 14th is the most recent example of increasing splintering within the gay community. In an age of mass shootings, the move may be catastrophic as well; in addition to banning gay cops from marching, the parade organizers seek to replace much of the professional security normally provided by the NYPD with security provided by community and private contractors instead. This move ignores the anti-terrorism information that the police gather and share with LGBTQ+ organizations (including the leadership at NYC Pride, much of which is comprised of community activists with little or no managerial or security experience), informing them of armed and dangerous anti-gay hate groups. Saturday, June 12th marks the five-year anniversary of the shooting massacre in the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida where 49 people died. Reckless and untested public safety measures for one of NYC’s largest public gay events in today’s steady clip of regular mass shootings invites and risks mass casualties.
In addition, by banning GOAL, the parade organizers, known as Heritage of Pride (HOP) may be missing a bold opportunity to achieve the desperately needed police reform that our communities and allies at #BlackLivesMatter demand. GOAL is not the NYPD; it is a fraternal organization including thousands of gay and lesbian police officers and law enforcement colleagues with chapters in major cities across the nation. The members of GOAL know first-hand what it is like to be marginalized. Many of them fought for their rights within their respective departments as well. In reaction to the ban, a statement from GOAL reads:
For nearly 30 years, GOAL has provided LGBTQIA+ training for every new NYPD recruit at the academy, educating future officers on the unique challenges facing our community. We have facilitated LGBTQIA+ sensitivity and awareness training for criminal justice agencies throughout the region and internationally. Our efforts have served as a model for police departments pursuing their own LGBTQIA+ programs. There are many partners for change throughout law enforcement. For them to succeed, they need to be supported by leading LGBTQIA+ groups, not excommunicated by them.
By banning GOAL, NYC Pride blows up this opportunity and demoralizes and rejects thousands of brothers and sisters. Says Ana Arboleda, vice president of GOAL:
To paint all police officers with a broad brush and be excluded by our own community is disheartening! Heritage of Pride’s (“HOP”) statement has marginalized LGBTQIA+ officers simply because we wear uniforms. I am more than a uniform. I am a person, a lesbian, a woman, a Latina, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and much more. I am just like many of you, and it breaks my heart to know that the oppressed have become the oppressors.
More than 1,200 comments on the NYC Pride page on Instagram include members stating how they will never participate in a Pride event again. Numerous allies and community leaders have also chimed in, as exemplified by this post by @kengillett:
As a gay man in New York, never have I been more ashamed of an organization in my community. You are all on the wrong side of history with your announcement today. What a detriment you are to the LGBTQ community. I stand by my friends and family in the police force. You can be assured that I will never be participating in your organization events and will recruit my entire network of LGBTQ New Yorkers to do the same. What shame I have for you all. Such a disappointing day. I pray for you all to realize your incredible stupidity and mistake.
The backlash led to an emergency meeting on May 20th at which a majority of the membership of HOP voted to reverse the ban. Hours later, HOP’s executive committee stated that it has the authority to decide on the issue and re-affirmed the ban. As of this writing, on May 23rd, the ban on gay cops remains in effect.
The infighting within the LGBTQQIA2S+ community is not new, but it is growing to a crescendo with implications beyond discriminating against gay cops. The emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s forced many gay men and their lesbian supporters to come out despite rampant homophobia in a fight for our lives. We demanded a cure and life-saving drugs. Since the advent of those drugs, however, the urgency of the AIDS epidemic and its force to unite us have dissipated. As a result, grassroots AIDS service organizations compete for limited dollars. Similarly, the existential drive for dignity in marriage equality vaporized when gay marriage became legal.
Without the big fights that once unified us, the once growing and welcoming LGBTQQIA2S+ alphabet soup has been subject to partisan politics and infighting, which risks our possible future successes. For example, a worldwide cure for AIDS is at last within reach and at stake. Scientists developed multiple vaccines for coronavirus in just one year precisely because world populations banded together, made resources available, and focused on this shared goal, like we used to do. After 40 years of HIV/AIDS, the LGBTQ+ community can either re-affirm its unity and fight for its common goals, including a cure for AIDS and increased civil rights everywhere, or we can fail to squash escalating infighting and fall away like one big exploding rainbow glitter bomb. This is LGBTQ+ Pride month, a time to support each other, not to rip ourselves apart.
Rockefeller University alumnus and biotech inventor Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D., is the president of Research Foundation to Cure AIDS and LGBTQ editor at WestView News. To support GOAL, go to https://www.goalny.org/. To support RFTCA, go to https://rftca.org/.